No low-cut tops, no miniskirts; dress code draws fire from lawmakers

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(CNN) — A Kansas lawmaker issued an apology Tuesday for a rule he made three years ago on attire that included specifics for women testifying before a state committee: no low-cut tops, no miniskirts.

The rule surfaced last week as part of a set of guidelines for people who appear before the committee. It made news and raised some hackles. But Republican state Sen. Mitch Holmes initially defended his choice.

Holmes wrote an 11-point guideline for the Kansas Senate Ethics and Elections Committee, which he leads. It details instructions for etiquette and rules for witnesses testifying on elections or ethics bills.

Rule number 2 reads: “Conferees should be dressed in professional attire. For ladies, low-cut necklines and miniskirts are inappropriate.” It offers no additional guidance on how long a skirt should be or what constitutes “low-cut” for women’s necklines.

Colleagues object

Some of his fellow lawmakers found the second line of the rule offensive.

The dress code is sexist and insulting because it singles out women, state Sen. Laura Kelly, a Democrat from Topeka, told CNN affiliate KWCH.

“I think my first thought was, ‘For crying out loud, what century is this?'” she said. “There was no suggestion that men needed any help deciding what to put on in the morning.”

“It’s hard enough to get people to come and testify as it is, and now we’re giving them a particular dress,” Democrat Rep. Barbara Ballard told the affiliate.

Holmes didn’t get much support from fellow Republican Rep. Peggy Mast. “An individual is an individual and I don’t judge what other people would choose to feel is appropriate,” Mast said.

Applies to men, too

Holmes defended his rules last week, and said they apply to men as well.

“First off, there’s a misunderstanding that I have a rule that only applies to women. And that’s just not the case. The rule says all conferees should be dressed in professional attire,” Holmes told the affiliate.

Regardless of dress, he said, no one has been blocked from testifying. And he has not had to confront anyone so far about attire before the committee. He decided to add the rule after the wardrobe of a lobbyist piqued his ire.

“[She] had a low-cut that extended way down almost to the navel,” Holmes told KWCH.

He said last week he was thinking of adding some wording on what might not be appropriate attire for men.

Holmes said the rule has been around for three years, so he’s surprised it’s creating a stir now.

“A particular reporter, one known for not joining in the Pledge of Allegiance, decided to make an issue of the committee rules I use,” he said in a message to KWCH.

Holmes: ‘I apologize and retract the rule’

After several days of scrutiny from local media and attention from several national media outlets, Holmes issued an apology and retraction.

“My failure to clearly specify that all conferees, regardless of gender, should strive to present themselves professionally is unacceptable. I apologize and meant no offense. I have decided to retract the conferee guidelines,” Holmes said in a written statement he released Tuesday.

As he was leaving a committee meeting Tuesday, he turned down an opportunity to comment on his written statement. As the senator stepped into view of a television camera, a reporter asked him if he had a moment. “No, I don’t. I issued a statement and that’s all I’ve got at this point. I’m not adding anything to the statement that I’ve already made. Thank you.”

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